*Check out this video of the “Memphis Soul” concert on April 9, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.
By Lanie Rivera
Despite devastating budget cuts from the sequestration, the White House decided that their show must go on; the Obamas hosted a “Memphis Soul” concert, the 10th installation of the concert series “In Performance at the White House” on Tuesday, April 9.
While an article by Fox News cited that many Americans scoffed at the performance, angry that the exclusive star-studded show remained on schedule amid federal cuts, I have read other articles about the concert that lead me to believe this frustration is unjustified.
It seems that the event’s thoughtful purpose, private funding and student workshop (held before the concert) conflict with accusations that the first couple has become selfish, thoughtlessly spending federal funds on lavish parties while the closing the White House to the public.
The concert was an informative event that encouraged and promoted community through arts participation and appreciation; it was not a show that merely entertained the Obamas and their chosen guests.
An article by CBS quoted President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the importance of soul music:
And that was the spirit of their music — the sound of Soulsville, U.S.A., a music that, at its core, is about the pain of being alone, the power of human connection, and the importance of treating each other right … After all, this is the music that asked us to try a little tenderness …
And the Obamas’ said they hoped this Memphis Soul music event would inspire connection and respect, too. But their communal and educational intentions were not praised, or even recognized, by most citizens. Instead, many complained that federal dollars were being used for the concert.
One reader, under the name “Dry Chardonnay,” commented on the Fox News article about the concert to express frustration about U.S. spending. The commentator added that the concert was unwarranted amid a time of budget cutbacks:
When the furlough strikes in May, I will be one of the over 750,000 employees who will lose 20 [percent] of their paycheck … for goodness sakes stop throwing concerts, unless it is a fundraiser to pay down the national debt!
But according to an article posted on Red Alert Politics, the concert was funded by outside sources. “… these concerts are partially funded by private and corporate donations, [and] most of the costs are covered by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” wrote Laura Byrne, a writer for Red Alert Politics.
Additionally, the Fox News article reported that some federal employees have made several cries against the “First Couple’s” White House events because the “people’s house” was closed to the public, yet high-profile celebrities were invited to attend the concert.
Outcries also targeted the White House’s suspension of public tours to cut back on security spending, yet its doors still opened for an event that surely required a paid Secret Service security staff, according to Fox News:
Republican lawmakers ripped the administration for its decision to cancel White House tours, which affected school groups and others who had made spring plans to visit.
Jon Hart, a Republican spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was one of these critics.
Although he did not specifically comment on the concert, he did bash the Obamas for discontinuing the tours, the Washington Post reported:
They can tour the country on the taxpayer’s dime but can’t allow taxpayers to tour the White House? Seriously?
Contrarily, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted “The History of Memphis Soul,” an interactive, educational event for 120 middle and high schoolers across the country on April 9.
The workshop encouraged budding musicians and featured music industry legends such as Sam Moore, Mavis Staples, Justin Timberlake, Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper.
According to the CBS article, the First Lady offered words of support and advice to the students:
At the workshop, Mrs. Obama also tried to encourage the students, including some aspiring musicians, by noting that it took years of perfecting their talent for the artists perched on stools in front of them to get where they are.
Not to mention the Obamas invited the public to their recent Easter Egg Roll event on April 1.
While most people criticized these White House events, some did praise the Obamas for their efforts to promote education.
One Fox News reader by the name “xybann” wrote:
I am SO impressed that the first lady is going to talk to bunch of students about the history of Memphis Soul. That is so important for young, eager minds to hear about from the most influential woman in America!